Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's the future for shopping online?


LONDON: From the ill-fated Boo website to the newer and infinitely more successful Amazon Windowshop for the iPad, retailers have been aiming for years to replicate the high-street shopping experience on a computer.

Each brand is trying to give its customers a sense of what it’s like to shop in their specific outlet. It’s a bid to get users browsing again in the way that is only really possible in a store. Tesco, for instance, has struggled to recreate the sense of choosing from a shelf of items, because a long list of different, say, pasta sauces, doesn’t translate brands’ rivalries on to the screen. The company’s superb new iPhone app gives up entirely – scan the barcode of a product as you throw it away and it is added to your basket automatically.

When Microsoft launched IE9, however, Amazon produced a demonstration site called Shelf, which tried to show users the same kind of information that they might get in a really good bookshop, from staff recommendations to other titles. It worked more effectively than their new iPad version, but was apparently a comprehensive reimagining of the web giant’s entire shop.

On a smaller scale, luxury website is leading the way with a kind of shopping that is influenced by Boo website’s 3D shopping experience, but uses today’s much faster broadband connections to make the approach practical for, say, whisky.

All of these new tactics are heavily influenced by apps and new tablet computers – browsing feels more luxurious on an iPad than it ever will with a mouse. That works effectively for luxury brands in particular for now, but in due course the idea will permeate across all brands.

But with Google pioneering speech recognition, too, their approach is likely to soon revolve around simply speaking your shopping list. That, for supermarkets at least, could present a whole new challenge because the sense of browsing may yet evaporate further. On the one hand, retailers want to get us all in to their shops, online or in the real world – but not everyone actually enjoys the crush of shopping.


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